By Idrees Ali and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Saturday that he had approved additional military forces to go to Kabul to help safely draw down the American embassy and remove personnel from Afghanistan.
In a lengthy statement, Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, arguing that Afghan forces had to fight back against Taliban fighters sweeping through the country.
"Based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military and intelligence teams, I have authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 U.S. troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of U.S. personnel and other allied personnel," Biden said.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the 5,000 Biden announced, 4,000 were already previously announced. About 1,000 were newly approved and would be from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Biden said his administration had told Taliban officials in Qatar that any action that put U.S. personnel at risk "will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response."
But he also said an indefinite U.S. military presence was not an option.
"One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me," Biden added.
The troops will also support evacuation of some Afghans going through a special visa program.
The State Department has reached out to advocates to request names of Afghans in Kabul who have worked with the Americans and need to be evacuated, two sources familiar with the matter said. The list could include journalists and human rights activists.
Biden has set a formal end to the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan for Aug. 31 as he looks to disengage from a conflict that started after al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Biden's move on Saturday came amid growing pressure to adjust a withdrawal plan that is generating some of the harshest criticism of his six months in office.
A Twitter post from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham reflected some of the criticism: "If President Biden truly has no regrets about his decision to withdraw, then he is disconnected from reality when it comes to Afghanistan."
The Taliban have swept through much of Afghanistan, capturing a major city in northern Afghanistan on Saturday and drawing closer to Kabul, where Western countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens from the capital.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali, Steve Holland and Michael Martina in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)